DIY Crochet, Sewing, and Watercolor

DIY doll and crochet

Handmade bunny doll with crochet hood, infinity scarf, and leg warmers

Last week was hectic, so there was no Cultural Parallels article yesterday. In fact, I’ve decided to publish that particular segment on a biweekly basis for the rest of the year. I may choose to revert to a weekly schedule in 2016, though. I can’t believe it’s almost October!

Now that my sister’s birthday has passed, I can share some of what I’ve been working on lately.

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Saturday Morning House Fire

Firefighters

I’ve always heard that life slows down during a tragedy, enabling you to catalogue the minutest details. In these cruelly stretched moments, colors are sharper and whispers are louder as disaster inscribes its indelible mark on your memory. We were watching the Swansea vs. Everton match, and through the window we saw people run past our backyard, into the open field. Everyone was pointing.

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Scenes of Italy

Italian gelato

Corner gelato shops are as ubiquitous in Italy as Starbucks cafés are in America.

Art, history, food, fashion, and culture; Italy has something for everyone. I’ve written about my experiences in Venice and Florence and will undoubtedly go into further detail about the Vatican and Rome later. Below, I’ve chosen one representative photograph from each stop on my tour of Italy.

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La Sagrada Família

 

La Sagrada Família

The Passion Façade of La Sagrada Família in Barcelona, Spain

Situated in Barcelona, and considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Sagrada Família (Holy Family) is one of the world’s most innovative places of worship. Construction began in 1882, though Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí revised the design a year later, infusing the Gothic basilica with art nouveau elements. Due to lack of funding and socio-political disruptions such as the Spanish Civil War, architects have worked intermittently on Sagrada Família for well over one hundred years.

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Monaco

St. Nicholas Cathedral, resting site of Grace Kelly

St. Nicholas Cathedral, resting site of Grace Kelly

St. Nicholas Cathedral

Did you know that the first step toward immigrating to Monaco is to open a bank account with a minimum initial deposit of €300,000 – €1million? With the intention of rubbing shoulders with the rich and the famous at the Monte Carlo Casino, we drove to Monaco one of the nights we were based in Antibes, France. Unfortunately, the traffic was so bad that by the time we arrived there was only enough time to walk around and take a few pictures.

Yachts in Monaco Harbor

Yachts in Monaco Harbor

Monaco Harbor

The fantastically pink Prince's Palace of Monaco

The fantastically pink Prince’s Palace of Monaco

Ranked the second smallest country in the world, at 0.78 square miles, it’s actually impressive that I did not see every inch of Monaco. As I stared out over the harbor, counting all the locals’ yachts, it occurred to me that the price of residence was a necessary consequence of keeping the small nation afloat. However, as I began tallying superyachts, I understood that the price of inclusion covered more than taxes; it purchased exclusivity. With its gorgeous pink Prince’s Palace, Grand Prix roads, and luxury boutiques, Monaco is a five-star hotel posing as a microstate. To live in Monaco is to exist in a perpetual state of vacation.

Monte Carlo Casino

Monte Carlo Casino

Monte Carlo Casino

The casinos in Monaco are surrounded by luxury cars

Luxury cars outside the casinos 

Outside the casinos, people milled around, peering into Lamborghinis, Ferraris, and Bentleys. We even spotted a Bugatti Veyron. I recalled an alleged car show I once saw in a Burger King parking lot, attended by Honda Civic owners with brightly colored spinning rims and illegally tinted windows on their cars. They were so proud of their aftermarket headlights, and I remember thinking the spectacle was ridiculous. Standing outside the Monte Carlo Casino, with my inexpensive dress and accessories, I suddenly felt like the human equivalent of a Honda Civic. I had to laugh; it was absurd to be surrounded by such an embarrassment of riches.

 

The world's most famous bend!

The world’s most famous bend!

Little yellow submarine outside the Musée Océanographique

Little yellow submarine outside the Musée Océanographique

The French Spectrum

Côte d'Azur, literally translates as Azure Coast. In English, it's also known as the French Riviera. Nice, France.

Côte d’Azur literally translates as Azure Coast. It’s also known as the French Riviera. Nice, France.

A visit to France is a fully saturated Technicolor experience. Cityscapes and countryside similarly pulse with the color and light that once inspired the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist masters. Caught in Paris’s congested nighttime traffic, it was evident why the infamous Avenue des Champs-Élysées is sometimes called the street of diamonds and rubies. Juxtaposed against a black sky, the lanes of gleaming white headlights and scarlet break lights transformed the road into a conduit of glittering jewels.

When I look back on my time in France, I remember each experience as a color on the rainbow spectrum. I passed through the red-light district of Pigalle on my way to the Nouvelle Eve cabaret and vaudeville show in Montmartre. The neon glow emanating from the Moulin Rouge set the stage for a night of garish entertainment. From my seat directly in front of the Nouvelle Eve stage, I had an unimpeded view of bizarre dance routines, where the performers were clothed and then nude for seemingly no reason at all. Midway through the second act, a girl from my group propped her elbows up on the stage, rested her heavy head in her palms, and shouted drunken platitudes. I watched whirling, kicking legs come within inches of her face, as she continued to yell, “Awesome! Yeah!”

Nouvelle Eve stage. Photo credit: Google image search.

Nouvelle Eve stage. Paris, France. Photo credit: Google image search.

Evidently thirsty after dutifully cheering the dancers on, she turned back to the table to grab the champagne bottle nestled in the ice bucket. In her drunken haze, she forgot about the bottle next to her elbow, and accidentally knocked it to the floor. The bottle was half empty anyway, since she’d spilled most of its contents across the table during the previous act. Shocked by the calamitous loss of champagne, she then dropped the full bottle, as well. At first, I was annoyed that I’d paid for spilled alcohol, but I suppose the champagne glass half full perspective is that I paid for one show and inadvertently got two.

In general, France was a series of shifting expectations. When I first saw the Eiffel Tower, the sun was in the process of setting, and I remember being disappointed that we’d arrived so late. The thing is, it doesn’t even matter what time of day you arrive. The tower is gorgeous in any type of lighting, and in fact, it might be most alluring during those twilight hours when the sun is slowly sinking below the horizon. I watched the sky fade from blue to pale orange, and I thought about all the people around me coming from far-flung corners of the planet to see this one landmark. Later that night, I ate escargot for the first and probably last time in my life. Snails, as it turns out, are salty, with a gummy texture. Eating escargot is like chewing on a solidified chunk of seawater. Not bad, per se, but not something I’m clamoring to do again soon.

French roads, however, are fantastic. As I mentioned above, the Champs-Élysées is beautiful, and the roundabout circling the Arc de Triomphe should be classified as an amusement park ride, but it’s the highways I truly remember. Afraid I’d miss out on seeing something amazing, I rarely slept on the bus. We were driving along one particular stretch of road, and I was so focused on what was happening outside my window that I didn’t notice the field ahead. In the middle of nowhere, the grass lining the road abruptly transitioned from green to yellow. Without warning, we had passed through some invisible portal to an alien planet. There were tall, lithe sunflowers as far as the eye could see. Millions of them crowded around each other with their brown, cyclopic eyes staring blankly back at me. Though ordinary moments ago, the field sprung to life with these anthropomorphic flowers, these gangly, rooted strangers. How can anything be so bright, yet so melancholic? It was a surreal experience, made especially dreamlike by the presence of all the sleeping people around me. I wanted to shake the girl beside me, and tell her to look, but I stayed quiet as I marveled at the unexpected visitors.

Café Van Gogh in Arles, France

Café Van Gogh in Arles, France.

In 1889, Vincent van Gogh wrote a letter to Paul Gauguin, stating, “For if Jeannin can claim the peony, and Quost the hollyhock, then surely I, above all others, can lay claim to the sunflower.” Van Gogh relentlessly attempted to lure Gauguin to Arles, where he thought an artist colony would flourish, but it never worked out the way he wanted. In many ways, Van Gogh is so much like the sunflowers he revered, bright and melancholic. With those sunflowers in mind, I swept through Arles, looking for that famed yellow awning outside Le Café Van Gogh. I think I was hoping to find a connection to the artist, since I missed out on seeing his works at the Musée d’Orsay.

I took a few architecture classes in college, but French architecture baffled me. Every building we studied was a chateau! I could recall the minutest details about unimportant English structures, but every French chateau looked the same to me. So, when they said we were staying in a chateau in the Beaujolais Wine Region, I had mixed emotions. On the one hand, I was like, “Yay, fancy!” On the other hand, it was like finally meeting a nemesis face to face. I was amazed when we pulled up in front of this stately, white manor on the outskirts of Lyon, surrounded by picturesque green rolling hills. I set out on a hike one morning, intent on combing through the parcels of land carved out by row upon row of grapevines. After a while, I realized everything looked the same, and I felt my pulse start to quicken with panic. Completely alone and lost, I stumbled into a ghost town with brightly painted shutters. Seeing no one, I turned and left. Around the next corner, I found a lonely horse standing in a field. He stared at me expectantly, and I felt the crazy, heat stricken side of my brain whinny, “Feed me!” So, of course, I told the horse to wait a moment, and I ran off to fetch him some grapes. I was still lost, but at least I’d made a horsey friend. Eventually, I spotted the resident chateau dog taking a leisurely stroll through the fields, and I followed him back to base camp.

Rolling hills in the Beaujolais Wine Region

Rolling hills in the Beaujolais Wine Region. Outside Lyon, France.

Beaujolais Wine Region

Beaujolais Wine Region

Gorgeous shutters in the Beaujolais Wine Region

Gorgeous shutters in the Beaujolais Wine Region.

The lonely French horse.

The lonely French horse.

French Horse

Nice was, without a doubt, my favorite city in France. The electric blue water along the Côte d’Azur more than made up for the pebble beaches. Being from New Jersey, I know a thing or two about going down the shore, and there’s something categorically wrong about a beach without sand. Due to the sharp incline of the rocks, you have to awkwardly climb out of the ocean like a primordial organism, venturing onto land for the first time. The pebbles can be a bit uncomfortable to lay or walk on, so there are cordoned off segments of the beach with umbrellas and chaise lounges, presumably only for the elite? I was amazed by the amount of bronzed, leathery skin I saw, while I tripped my way across the pebbles.

Lounge chairs and umbrellas on a pebble beach. Nice, France.

Lounge chairs and umbrellas on a pebble beach. Nice, France.

French Riviera

French Riviera

A bulldozer, leveling the pebbles on the beach. Nice, France.

A bulldozer, leveling the pebbles on the beach. Nice, France.

My French adventure started the moment our ferry from Dover, England docked in Calais. On the drive to Paris, we navigated flash flood conditions, so it was only fitting that on the way out of France and into Italy, the sky opened up once more. I experience true awe and terror as I stared out across the violent purple-grey skies. We counted at least four waterspouts along the coast. It was incredible, like a movie scene come to life, as we watched those vortexes raging from sky to sea.

My first sight of France, from the ferry.

My first sight of France, from the ferry.

Louvre Museum

The world famous Louvre Museum. Paris, France.

 

Ferris wheel in the Jardin des Tuileries. Paris, France.

Ferris wheel in the Jardin des Tuileries. Paris, France.

View from atop the Arc de Triomphe. Paris, France.

View from atop the Arc de Triomphe. Paris, France.

Atop the Arc de Triomphe

I don’t have as many pictures of France as I’d like because my travel converter died, but somehow that’s ok. I have every intention of returning, and when I do, I’ll take pictures then. To be perfectly honest, I did not expect to love France as much as I did. From the Tuileries outside the Louvre Museum, to the grounds beyond the Palace of Versailles, French gardens are verdant to the point of being magical. Even the food is colorful, from the pastel macarons to the ever-present ruby red tomatoes. Seriously, I’ve never eaten so many tomatoes in my life. In three words: France is beautiful.

What England Means to Me

Corfu to Athens

I started this blog in the middle of the story, as though it were some sort of Homeric epic. While I can hardly claim to have accomplished any heroic feats, my journey spanned several nations and exposed me to new cultural experiences. It was pretty epic in my book. Towards the end of the trip, on the ferry ride from Corfu to Athens, I watched the water trail behind the ship like white, frothy fingers splaying across the surface of the Ionian Sea. I was transfixed by the way the water churned in the ferry’s wake, the way it was pushed away after being pulled in. It hit me then that I wasn’t like the water, I wasn’t violently crashing and quickly subduing. As I said, traveling isn’t a Herculean task, but I was on the cusp of completing a goal I’d had for years. I’d seen London, this remarkable city that always felt a fingertip out of reach, and then I’d ventured even further.

Do not attempt. London phone boxes smell like public urinals.

Do not attempt. London phone boxes smell like (and most likely function as) public urinals.

Bobby and Ben

Bobby and Ben

Ceramic Poppy War Memorial Installation by Paul Cummins. 1914-2014.

Ceramic Poppy War Memorial Installation by Paul Cummins. One hundred years: 1914-2014.

Though I had never set foot on UK soil before last year, I have always felt connected to England. Growing up, my parents subjected me to the cruelest of first world kid problems. They refused to get cable. I had no insight as to what Clarissa explained and no earthly clue who Stick Stickly was until I entered the fourth grade. Consequently, I watched a lot of British comedies on PBS. I loved Keeping Up Appearances for Hyacinth Bucket’s oblivious social mobility aspirations, Red Dwarf for the tongue-in-cheek approach to science fiction, and Mr. Bean for the largely silent, bumbling antics. For years, all I had access to were these Britcoms and others like Absolutely Fabulous, Are You Being Served?, Fawlty Towers, The Thin Blue Line, Blackadder, Chef!, and The Vicar of Dibley. These shows informed my sense of humor, and in a way they ostracized me from my classmates on my own terms.

These shows were a portal to a world where I wasn’t obligated to explain myself. My entire life, I’ve watched people peer at me through narrowed eyes as they try to resolve my provenance. My tan skin confuses people; it makes it difficult for them to figure out where I belong on their internal value scale. It’s exhausting to always have to answer the same degrading question every time I meet someone new. “What are you?” Human doesn’t suffice as an answer, and neither does American. They aren’t interested in my nationality, but they also can’t be bothered to sit through a lecture on the implications of African diaspora and intersectionality. “No, what are you really? Where are you from?” It doesn’t matter that I was born in America, that’s not the answer they’re looking for.

The mind is always calculating. People tend to subconsciously box you up when they meet you, so they can assess your worth. Sycophants might wonder, “How much respect do I owe this person?” They want to mentally place you on a hierarchical rung, so they can keep tabs on those who are of value and dismiss those who they deem worthless. Granted, we can’t all be friends, but I am suspicious of those who regard ethnicity to be of greater import than identity when exploring affinity. Being biracial, I straddle the line between being black and white every day. I am frozen in a constant state of cultural liminality, where I am not quite Jamaican, not quite Irish, and yet not immediately accepted as an American. Growing up, I was told I couldn’t possibly be black because you got that good hair though, and I couldn’t claim to be white because wait, you don’t wash your hair every day – that’s gross. My hair has always defined me, for reasons I can’t understand.  

My hair, doing what it wants.

My hair, doing what it wants.

As a kid, I eagerly crossed the threshold of any door that helped me escape the marginalization I felt. Steeped in history and culture, modern England was as much a fantasy realm to me as any kingdom plagued by dragons or evil wizards. Britcoms, though rooted in reality, held the same appeal as the books I loved that were set in fictional universes. After following these shows for years, and tirelessly cheering on Chelsea FC from the confines of my home, I think I had this deluded notion that I belonged. It was pathological, like stalker fan levels of compatibility false logic.

Getting from Heathrow to my hotel was easy. I studied a map and plotted a course. Problems arose, however, once I left the hotel. I had no idea where I was going. Not one clue. Equipped with a checklist of sights to see and places to go, organized by general location, I set off looking for an entrance to the Underground. After walking a considerable distance based on the advice of a street sign, I began to worry that I’d gone too far, or that the sign was posted as a cruel social exercise in futility. I determined to ask for directions from the next moderately friendly-looking woman I saw, so as to minimize my chances of being abducted. (Because I’m too crafty to get capital T Taken, duh.) I spotted two petite girls around my age, and politely veered into their path, not unlike a crazy person.

British queues are no joke. I waited in line to use a trash bin in Westminster Station.

British queues are no joke. I waited in line to use a trash bin in Westminster Station.

I blanked. “Where is the…underground…station?” I prayed they would assume English wasn’t my first language. They pointed across the street and gave me a bless her heart smile before wishing me good luck. When I got back to the hotel room later that night, I told my two Australian roommates. One laughed, but the other corrected me.

“You should have asked where the tube was,” she haughtily explained. I rolled my eyes at my own foolishness, nodded, and repeated tube to myself. “No. The CH-ube,” she stressed.

That one stupid word peeled back the protective veneer of my illusory British identity and exposed me for what I truly was – a stranger in a foreign land. Suddenly this country that had always felt like a second home became distant. I was physically in England, but I finally felt fully rooted in America. Once again, I felt a transatlantic detachment from my surroundings. You cannot choose where you come from, but if you’re lucky you can choose where you go. I’m not done with London yet. The next time I go, I won’t feel like an outsider, I’ll simply be picking up where I left off.

YES, YES, YES at the British Library

YES, YES, YES at the British Library

Buckingham Palace gate

Buckingham Palace gate

King's Cross Station, Platform 9¾ . I want his job.

King’s Cross Station, Harry Potter Platform 9¾ . I want his job.

St. Pancras

St. Pancras Station and Hotel

St. Pancras

St. Paul's, a beautiful cathedral with a storied history

St. Paul’s, a beautiful cathedral with a storied history

St. Paul's Cathedral

St. Paul's Cathedral, from the Millennium Bridge

St. Paul’s Cathedral, from the Millennium Bridge

The Best-Laid Plans

H eathrow Sculpture

Last year I quit my job to travel from London to Athens. In the weeks leading up to my trip, I scavenged travel blogs, seeking scraps of tourism enlightenment. Suitcase or backpack duffel, which burden would I choose? At what point does one have too much underwear? Could I walk a mile in those shoes? Packing loomed over me like an unanswerable kōan. I prayed for a Mean Girls moment in which the culmination of all my efforts would produce clarity. I would suddenly understand, “The limit does not exist!” Of course, the limit did exist in the form of a 29” x 20” x 10” suitcase size restriction. I micromanaged every aspect of my trip, but I was not prepared for the litany of unforeseen obstacles I encountered.

As I learned at Heathrow Airport, sometimes the unforeseen is just your own incompetence. Grinning like an idiot at 7:40 a.m., I handed my passport to the UK Border Force officer. I’d been to Canada a few times as a kid and I’d been to Jamaica, but I’d never needed a passport. There I was, waiting expectantly for my stamp, like a toddler with an autograph book at Disney World, and the Immigration officer was just staring back at me. When I opened my carryon bag to retrieve the information he asked for, the zipper snagged and I could hear everyone in “the queue” behind me groan in exasperation. In my haste at Newark Airport, I’d stuffed all my travel documentation into my checked bag, which was now waiting for me just past the apathetic gatekeeper. All I had on me was an itinerary listing all the places I would be staying during my trip. He actually stepped down from his podium to zip my bag and physically remove me from his life after reluctantly stamping my passport. Clearly I was too inept to be a threat to national security.

Arc de Triomphe

Overcome by the sheer power of my pink hair straightener, my travel converter clicked once and died on the first night in Paris. Unable to charge my camera or phone, I wasted valuable time racing up and down the Champs-Élysées, miming the act of plugging an electronic device into the wall. Each response was the same. Security guards and cashiers alike carelessly flicked their wrists towards the door, shooing me out with the single word, “Fnac.” In hindsight, I began to worry that I may have come across as an aggressive American threatening to stab employees with an imaginary knife. Then I stumbled upon Fnac – which happens to be an electronics store, not a French expletive. Seven days and several annoyed sales associates later, I found a replacement not in a shop but in the lobby of the Generator Hostel Barcelona.

I was so consumed by my mission that I failed to realize I was out of clean underwear until I settled into the small, Jack-and-Jill-style campground mobile home I slept in while in Antibes. There were only two washing machines, and one was broken. As a result the remaining one was constantly in use. I went back to the camper, determined to wash at least three pairs in the sink. My bunkmate found me rifling through dirty clothes, trying to find the laciest, most displayable underwear to line dry in the bathroom that connected our room to the other girls’. She asked me not to leave wet clothes laying around, citing her asthma as a concern. Ok, but you’ve left wet clothes hanging and a dry cycle costs €4. That’s more than a euro per panty, plus extra when you factor in the exchange rate. I didn’t bother getting into it; I bit my tongue. Since I only had detergent pods with me, I scrubbed my knickers with a mandarin guava shower gel I’d purchased at Target on a whim. When I returned to the laundry patio, a small child popped out of the lone available dryer, like a creepy human jack in the box, and that was a wrap for me. No way in hell was I going to spend €4 to subject my organic-mandarin-guava-infused intimates to a dryer that had just housed the filthy feet of a screaming child. Nope! I was back in France frittering away valuable time. I marched my way back to the bathroom and MacGyvered a clothesline out of a shelf, a length of cord, and two clips.

Along the Canal

The minute I arrived in Venice, I sought out a washing machine. The laundry tides had turned, my clothes were clean, and all that was left was the dryer. How could things go wrong? Well, for starters, I could be €1 coin short, and have to walk a mile uphill to ask for change at the information desk. Oh, they don’t have change at the information desk, even though that’s where they sell Wi-Fi? I should go to the bar, you say? Ok. Oh, you don’t do change at the bar either? Well, fine, I’ll have a tequila sunrise, and can you please make sure I receive coins in change? I slid €4 into the dryer slot, pressed all the relevant buttons, and left. Little did I know, I would be back later only to spiral into a whirlwind of laundry despair. THE DRYER WAS BROKEN. It took my money – money that cost me a two-mile hike, an unwanted drink, a mosquito bite to the face, and a seat at dinner – and it didn’t do the only thing it was manufactured to do. You had one job, dryer! I lost it. I sank to the floor and sobbed until a kind tourist helped me up. Fortunately, one of the girls in my group came in to dry her bedbug-ridden clothes, so she offered to throw mine in with her load.

In the wake of my laundry struggle, I returned to the bar. All I wanted to do was get drunk, multiple U’s drunk, but it wasn’t in the cards for me. The person sitting beside me knocked into the table as he stood up, sending my drink into my lap. With nothing else to change into, I decided to go sit in front of the dryer and contemplate life as the clothes spun. Aren’t we all individual articles beaten down by the agitator of life? (Yeah. That’s where I was at, psychologically.) It was 1 a.m. before my clothes were clean, and as I set them down on my sleeping bag I realized I felt more homesick than tired. I needed someone to commiserate with me and I needed a laugh. Though I was nowhere near as intoxicated as my affected British accent suggested, I felt better after calling a friend.

I climbed the two wooden plank steps that led to the door of my cramped, mobile residence, moving gingerly to mitigate noise. As I bent down to open my suitcase, I heard a snore come from my bed. Assuming the roommate who walked past me as I was on the phone had accidentally gotten into my bed, I walked over to hers only to find her in it. I checked the third bed for our other roommate, and found her asleep as well. As much as I wanted a storybook vacation, I wasn’t expecting a Goldilocks experience. If they were in their beds, who was in mine?

Let me preface this by explaining that I am not a germaphobe. I’m non-confrontational. When you put your feet on my pillow, or touch my food when I know you don’t “believe” in hand washing – like, bro, it’s soap, not a unicorn – I might laugh along and agree that I’m neurotic, as I set the pillow aside to be torched or throw the food in the trash. Deep down I’m questioning your upbringing. So when I flicked the light switch in that little Venetian trailer home, and discovered a seemingly naked random dude curled up in my sleeping bag, it was too much for me.

“Hey. HEY,” I started clapping above his ear, “HEY, WAKE UP.” No response, except from my roommates. That’s when I noticed my clean laundry scattered across the floor. My. Clean. Laundry.

“Who is he? I thought that was you in bed,” ventured my soft-spoken British roommate. “I put the bin there by your bed because I thought you might be sick.”

I cap out at about 5’2 on a good day, whereas this dude was easily 6’ tall. No clue how she confused the two of us, but apparently she’d stood over the bed for a while in the dark, consoling this guy while he’d hacked up his lungs earlier. For a solid five minutes, the three of us stood there yelling at this possibly comatose stranger, while he continued to sleep off whatever had landed him in my sleeping bag. He looked like shit. If a sentient pile of excrement had a fairy godmother that could transform it into a nebulously human-adjacent creature, he would be the end result.

“Mate, you’ve got to get up,” she tried again. When he finally stood, ludicrously clutching my sleeping bag to his chest in an attempt to preserve his modesty, she asked, “Have you got any clothes on under there, mate?” He checked. He checked. As in, he was not sure and had to peek down into the sleeping bag to ascertain whether or not he was clothed. He offered a single drunken nod of confirmation. I stood there, quietly fuming, unable to speak. She continued to gently ask him where he came from, and if he wouldn’t mind please returning there. As if lulled by the suggestion, he turned to the door and carefully shuffled toward it, still wearing the sleeping bag. When she asked him to leave the sleeping bag, he became obstinate. No, he would not leave. Suddenly he didn’t know where he was, or where to go. I lost it.

“GIVE ME BACK MY SLEEPING BAG AND GET THE FUCK OUT.” I was beyond charity, the way my freshly laundered clothes were beyond the confines of my bed. He toppled out of the sleeping bag, and stood defiantly in his boxers. He seemed to believe that it was my civic duty to help him navigate his way home, though he hadn’t needed any assistance tearing through my belongings to crawl into my bed. “I don’t know where you came from, and I don’t care. Get out,” became my personal mantra, as I attempted to push his nasty sweat-slicked body over the threshold. All I could think about was the transmission of trichomoniasis through wet cloth, something I learned about in seventh grade health class. He clung to the doorframe, refusing to leave. In my mind, I was Chun Li seconds away from performing a Spinning Bird Kick. At nearly 3 a.m., the situation was too absurd. Tired, frustrated I’d have to spend €20 to wash my clothes and sleeping bag, and livid that my roommate hadn’t locked the door, I tried to comfort myself with the fact that the situation could hardly be more farcical. Then my roommate proved me wrong.

“Poor thing, he’ll be eaten by the mosquitos. Maybe we should let him stay? He could sleep just there on the floor,” she said, pointing to the tight space between our beds. For one infinitesimal moment, he slackened his grip on the doorframe to look longingly at the spot, like a dog invited in out of the rain. I seized my chance to get rid of him. Without a second thought, I shoved him out into the night like Uncle Phil evicting Jazz. Maybe they don’t teach stranger danger to children in the UK, but I was terrified by the notion that he could have forced himself on me had I chosen to go to sleep rather than call my friend. Personal safety is paramount; it blows my mind how negligent people are about locking doors at night. Aware of the bedbugs two trailers down, I chose to curl up at the foot of my roommate’s sleeping bag like a cat rather than risk sleeping on my exposed mattress.

I learned a few things about the world on this trip, but I also learned a lot about myself. While I am still objectively young, I am not carefree. 4,200 miles from home, with another 800 miles ahead of me, I finally understood that it doesn’t matter where you are in the world, you will always be yourself. Unless you’re clairvoyant, you won’t always be prepared for what happens, but I guess that’s part of what makes life interesting.

Venice

Santa Maria della Salute on the Canal

Rain smells different in a sinking city. That distinctive smell, usually earthy and comforting, elicits childhood fears of lost civilizations and forgotten history. After a lifetime under the vague impression that the city would one day collapse under its own weight, Venice wasn’t what I expected. With its winding pavement and irregular intersections, it’s easy to lose yourself in Venice. There were times when I forgot that I was surrounded by water, times where I didn’t silently consider each raindrop another nail in the coffin of a watery grave.

 

The Gondolier

 

Piazza San Marco

 

Venice Shop Window

 

Scala Contarini del Bovolo

 

Santa Maria della Salute

Venice is beautiful. Everyone should go at least once, to experience the gondolas, the architecture, and the shop windows. I was supposed to visit a Venetian glass-blowing demonstration, but I got lost and missed it. I did, however, pick up an intricate, lace masquerade mask from a street vendor. My advice: don’t be afraid to ask for help once you realize you’ve wandered too far into the labyrinth. Make note of the following, and you’ll be fine.

PRO-TIPS:

  1. Watch your back. The cobblestone roads are too narrow to accommodate trucks, so deliveries are made by handcart. Deliverymen are on a mission; they don’t care if you’re having a life-affirming moment, gazing out across the vast expanse of tomorrow’s Atlantis. They give fair warning by yelling at those in their way, so expect to be bowled over by more than the beauty of the city if you don’t move.
  2. Don’t fall into the canals. Two words: raw sewage.
  3. Carry extra cash. By the time I made it to Rome, I’d learned to look for signs outside restaurants boasting no cover charge. I wish I’d known in Venice. When we received our bill, there were several extra charges, including a service charge for the cooks and cover charge for entrance. Gratuity was added, though it was a small group, and our waiter suggested we also tip on top of that. Basically, they saw us coming.
  4. Enjoy your water taxi ride! I regaled everyone in my vicinity with the story of The Mystery Man in My Bed.

I’ll save that story for tomorrow, though. It deserves its own post.